The Groundhog Thresher

| March/April 1985

  • Threshing machine

  • Circa 1830

  • Threshing machine
  • Circa 1830

2404 B 12th Ave., Sterling, IL 61081

The earliest form of threshing machine, first after the flail and threshing floor, known as the groundhog thresher, was invented in 1788 by a Scottish millright named Andrew Meickel. It is a simple machine consisting of only a spiked cylinder and fixed concave, cranked by hand, one man on each side. A third man fed the machine while a fourth was required to rake away the straw. The groundhog simply beat the grain from the heads, dropping the grain, chaff and straw to the ground. The grain still had to be basket winnowed to remove the chaff. Even though quite primitive, it eliminated the tiresome and somewhat dangerous job of flailing. However, many felt that cranking the machine was actually more work than flailing. Later it was belted to a treadmill worked by a dog, goat or sheep, then a larger one worked by a horse, then a sweep power.

Fifty years after its invention, a U.S. patent was issued in 1837 on a 'combination thresher' mating the fanning mill to the ground hog, and the true threshing machine was born. With this combination, threshers got bigger and so did sweeps until they employed 12 or 14 horses, with countless other additions we know today. For anyone wanting more information on the development of threshing machines, I suggest 'The Grain Harvesters' by Graeme Quick and Wesley Buchele. This book gives a comprehensive story of threshing from the flail and scythe to today's machines.

This particular groundhog is circa 1830. And what about its strange name? It comes from the dark maw into which the stalks were fed resembling a groundhog's hole.

I purchased this machine August 4, 1984 at the dispersal sale of Milo Mathews in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It was billed as one of only two in existence. While I do not question this claim , I would like to know if it is accurate. I would like to hear from anyone who knows the whereabouts of any other hand-cranked groundhog threshers, or has other information such as known manufacturers. I plan to return this machine to the museum in Mt. Pleasant as a permanent exhibit for all to enjoy.


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